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International Finance Discussion Papers
The International Finance Discussion Papers logo links to the International Finance Discussion Papers home page The U.S. External Deficit: Its Causes and Persistence
Peter Hooper and Catherine L. Mann
1987-316  (November 1987)

Abstract:  This paper presents an empirical analysis of the macroeconomic and microeconomic factors underlying the causes and persistence of the U.S. external deficit in the 1980s. The paper begins with a review of the extensive literature on this subject, and then outlines an analytical framework that synthesizes several different approaches taken in previous studies. The proximate causes of the deficit are assessed using a partial-equilibrium model of the U.S. current account. We find that the decline in U.S. price competitiveness associated with the appreciation of the dollar over the first half of the decade was the dominant factor, while the excess of U.S. growth over growth abroad also contributed significantly. At a more fundamental level, drawing on average policy multipliers from a group of international macro models, the rise in the dollar and the growth gap that led to the deficit can be explained by the combination of a relatively restrictive U.S. monetary policy and expansive U.S. fiscal policy, along with fiscal contraction abroad. While the initial widening of the deficit can be adequately explained by macroeconomic factors, the deficit has adjusted substantially more slowly (particularly in real terms) to the fall in the dollar since early 1985 than conventional macro trade equations would predict. Analysis of the pricing behavior of foreign exporters, both in the aggregate and for a number of narrowly defined commodities, suggests that foreign profit margins have been squeezed more in response to the fall in the dollar than previously. Moreover, some foreign producers have benefited from significant reductions in production costs. Finally, quantitative restraints on U.S. trade appear to have slowed the adjustment of the trade balance to the decline in the dollar.

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